There is an old saying: “You bring yourself with you everywhere you go.” In dealing with dozens of entrepreneurs that are seeking strategic guidance, investment, and assistance in raising capital, I find that nearly all entrepreneurs are passionate and even zealous about their idea, their product and their company. However, they frequently lack the knowledge and understanding of what it takes to build a business and the process, or dance, if you will, of raising outside capital from sophisticated professional investors.
Many so-called experts are advising entrepreneurs to “fail fast”. I prefer to coach entrepreneurs not to fail at all. There is great value in grinding things out and making a way where there isn’t one. There are times in startups, to use a football analogy, when you can do “open field running” and there are times when it feels like you are running in thick mud and going nowhere. Sometimes you need to pound on the wall for a while before it starts to chip away and crumble. Startups are like that.
What is ‘failing fast’ anyway?
The idea behind “failing fast” goes something like this: If you are going to fail, then you should fail fast since it costs less money to fail that way. You take the learning from that experience and apply it to your next venture.
My argument to this is that if you’re always failing, you miss the opportunity for the maximum amount of learning, and you will never succeed. Also, what is the definition of failure? Is it declaring bankruptcy? Is it selling the company for less money than the contributed capital? Is it selling the company for less money that the investors hoped it would be worth?
The baseball analogy
I prefer to think about company outcomes in a baseball analogy. Clearly, striking out is a failure at bat. But is getting a single a failure? Well, the top professional baseball players only get on base about 30 percent of the time, so I would say any hit, even a single, is pretty good.
Not every bat is a home run, although that is what VCs want. In fact, they want a grand slam home run. In truth, they want a grand slam home run with every at bat. Now that would be success!
The ideal of relative success
I think success and failure also needs to be put into the context of circumstance. When you are involved in a turn-around, and you were not the one that caused the original problems that necessitated the turn-around, if you get the investors their money back, it can definitely be considered a success, albeit a relative success. It is far better than the alternative of shutting the company down.
The “you” of the equation
In my experience, you cannot create a successful startup company without overcoming significant and frequent adversity. Startup success requires tenacity, passion, patience, perseverance, and the willingness to learn constantly. The biggest failure that an entrepreneur can have is to fail to learn, adapt, change and grow during the times of adversity.
If you don’t learn, then that is the real failure for you as an individual. Whether you fail fast or fail slow, you will continue to lose.
So, you should not give up too easy. At the same time, it is critically important that you constantly assess the potential outcomes for a company. If you let your ego drive you, then you are far more likely to drive a company into the ground instead of accepting a less than optimal successful outcome.
No one knows more about a company than you, the leader who is running a company. Board members and investors do not have the inside perspective, nuances, and insights that you get when you are involved in day-to-day operations. At the same time, you need heed their guidance, while being passionate and realistic about potential outcomes for your company.
And remember, you bring yourself with you wherever you go.